Fuck yes to Michael Caine.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) and I go way back. A staple of holiday viewing at my house (at least for me and my mom), I remember being introduced to this movie on a cassette. That’s way back. Our relationship has been a long and happy one, despite only seeing each other once a year. Still, each time we’re reunited I learn something new and fall more and more in love. I know it sounds like I’m in a relationship with a DVD, but I’m not, I swear. Although, if I were going to date a DVD, The Muppet Christmas Carol would be a strong contender: humorous, musical, and a fan of classic literature? Yeah, we’d be happy together.
A whimsical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel “A Christmas Carol,” The Muppet Christmas Carol tells the story of the cynical Ebenezer Scrooge, as he is visited by three ghosts who help him become a more compassionate man and gain a better appreciation for Christmas. The Muppets are cast in key roles such as Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit, and Waldorf and Statler as Robert and Jacob Marley. Other Muppets are placed throughout the story, adding pops of colour to Dickens’ grey world. You guys, this movie is great, and I’m going to say it’s because it has EVERYTHING: The Muppets, being as hilarious as ever, memorable songs, a tone that balances between comedically fluffy and gut-wrenchingly real, and as expected, Michael Caine delivering an exceptional performance as Scrooge.
Can we talk about Michael Caine for like a decade? First of all, my love for him runs deep as he was such a prominent actor in my childhood. He showed up in movies that I not only watched the shit out of, but ended up becoming some of my all-time favourites: The Italian Job (1969), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), Miss Congeniality (2000)….I mean, come on. Three incredible examples (that you should totally check out if you haven’t already) that prove the man is perfect. I also just love the idea that acclaimed thespian Sir Michael Caine was asked to be in a Muppet movie and more or less went, “fuck yes, of course I’ll be in The Muppet Christmas Carol!” He gets it and it’s a major part of why he and his work hold a special place in my heart.
As the Christmas-hating Scrooge, Caine is deliciously nasty and cold-hearted. Although, I”d be crotchety too if I had Fred for a nephew. Remember Scrooge’s nephew Fred? He preaches love and good will and then behind his back, calls Scrooge an unwanted and ugly creature. Fuck Fred. Thankfully he’s not in it very long and doesn’t distract from the masterful presence of Michael Caine.
I think it was a smart move by the movie to keep Scrooge, for the most part, absent from the Muppet’s antics. If you removed the furry puppets and cheery songs, and focused solely on Caine’s performance, he wouldn’t be out of place in something like “A Christmas Carol” HBO mini-series. What can I say? He’s that talented. Though less serious, his co-stars, the Muppets, are equally as talented. As delightfully silly as always, the Muppets insert their trademark humour into Dickens’ story without parodying it or dumbing down the material They find the humour in the story and are able to play off of it and add their wonderful wackiness. The Great Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat, as Dickens himself and Dickens’ co-narrator respectively, are major scene-stealers as they impart their fun and playful repartee to give the story balance, making sure kids are never too bored by the work of Charles Dickens. Spoiler, they’re perfect and maybe two of my favourite narrators in cinema? Love them.
I think why this movie stands head and shoulders above other Muppet movies like Muppets from Space (1999), and Muppets Most Wanted (2014), is because it drops the Muppets into an existing and well-known story rather than having them struggle to fill a 90 minute movie with their original shtick. Kermit the Frog’s Bob Cratchit is endearing as he enlightens us all to the charm and magic of Christmas, but it’s Miss Piggy as his wife Emily (I mean, what other role would she play?) who brings the funny. Almost getting into a fist fight with Scrooge already has me rolling on the floor in laughter, but what really gets me is that even though she’s playing the poor and dowdy Emily Cratchit, director Brian Henson was like, “oh yeah, but she’ll definitely still be wearing silk gloves and a pearl necklace.” Sometimes I forget that Miss Piggy isn’t a real actress and I’m perfectly happy living in my fantasy world.
It’s unfortunate that the musical numbers in this movie aren’t more well-known because the soundtrack is full of festive songs that describe the joy and optimism of the holiday season. The finale song, “Thankful Heart,” is especially moving and beautiful, and one of my favourite parts of a movie that I already have so much love for. Even the darker songs, such as “Scrooge,” or “Marley and Marley,” are excellent examples of how the movie utilizes music to help tell the story. The former perfectly introduces the main character, his motivations, and how he is perceived by the other characters, and the latter is a great example of using the music to explain something quickly and further the story in an entertaining way. Oh my God, can we all agree though that Belle’s song, the infamously boring “When Love Is Gone,” is the only dud in an otherwise flawless setlist? You guys, the song is so bland and forgetful that it was deleted from the original theatrical release and isn’t even on some copies of the DVD. If only I had one of those copies. I’d much rather watch Bean Bunny sing “Good King Wenceslas” for a half hour. Okay, forget “Thankful Heart,” HE’S my favourite part of the movie. Just look at him!
The movie delivers on the heart and humour that you’d expect, but the movie takes an uncharacteristically dark turn towards the end where Scrooge is shown a world in which Tiny Tim, Bob and Emily’s youngest son dies, and man, is it HEAVY. A little background: Initially Scrooge is shown Christmas Present at the Cratchit household, where the entire family joyously celebrates the holiday, counts their blessings, and Tiny Tim even leads them in a rendition of “Bless Us All.” Scrooge is moved by the outpour of familial love and bitch, so am I. Then Scrooge is shown Christmas Yet to Come, where Tiny Tim has died, and the effect his death has on his family at Christmas. It’s such a grim and genuinely upsetting juxtaposition of the love and festivity of the scene we just saw. The parents trying to keep a brave face, the tearful children, the pain that comes with celebrating a holiday without a loved one…As silly as it sounds, it’s a scene that I feel truly and realistically captures how a family grieves the loss of a child. Weren’t expecting that from The Muppet Christmas Carol, were you?
A great introduction to a timeless story that’s enjoyable for all ages, The Muppet Christmas Carol is a lovely and heartwarming classic that deserves to be enjoyed by modern audiences. It may be a little harder to find, but look for it at the public library or the DVD section of the your local thrift store. I promise you, from acting, to plot, to comedy, everything totally holds up! Even the special effects! Except for the Ghost of Christmas Past. She was a nightmare back then and continues to be one today. She’s definitely spookier than the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, right?
Are you a fan of the Muppets? Do you like their take on “A Christmas Carol?”
Let me know in the comments or on social media!